Chocolate chips. Vanilla frosting. Rainbow sprinkles. Brownie bites. Coconut flakes. Cookie dough. The mouthwatering toppings that adorn the delectable goodies at CRUMBS Bake Shop are so tempting, you just might forget to pick up the kids from daycare!
So who’s behind this culinary sweets craze? Nearly ten years ago, Mia and Jason Bauer helped reinvent the individual dessert, opening the first CRUMBS on the Upper West Side in 2003—a time when there were only a few bakeries in the city devoted to cupcakes. Soon, New Yorkers flocked to the homey cupcake haven in search of their oversized cupcakes with mostly cream cheese-based frosting and delectable, edible embellishments. The business quickly took off as the Bauers began dreaming bigger dreams for their burgeoning bakery. Just last year, CRUMBS went public and now boasts more than 50 cupcake varieties in 51 locations across the country.
On a warm day earlier this summer, Mia and Jason spoke to us about their smash-success bakery business and their family life with two small children—Annabelle, 4 years old, and Zack, 2. Indulge yourself and read on to find out how Mia and Jason built a business good enough to eat.
You’re living the dream—leaving law and politics (as prior legislative counsel for the New York City Council in the Giuliani Administration) to open a bakery! How did you know you were ready to make the switch?
Mia: I think it was a culmination of a lot of things. I was working…just crazy hours and it occurred to me that…all the fruits of my labor were for someone else’s cause, so to speak. I really wanted to do something that belonged to Jason and me, and we wanted to do something together. There is an energy about our relationship that I knew would translate very well in the business world.
Jason: I grew up in a family beverage distribution business and started working full time in the business after I graduated college. After that was sold in the ‘90s, I started a company called Famous Fixins, a manufacturer of celebrity licensed consumer products, like Britney Spears bubble gum and NSYNC lip balm. After eight years and over 20 products, I was ready for a change and sold the business to start CRUMBS with Mia.
What were your expectations when you opened the first CRUMBS?
Mia: My expectations were very simple, and they came to fruition immediately. The goal was to have a neighborhood bakery where I knew everybody and their kids, and I made all their birthday cakes.
Jason: When we started CRUMBS, we were just dating. But we knew we had incredible chemistry not only in our personal lives, but we also really complemented each other in business. Mia kept me grounded. I was always looking to grow and expand the business very quickly, but once we created short-term and long-term goals together, every decision was put through that filter before proceeding.
So you weren’t married when you went into this together? You just dove in?
Mia: We were dating. Now, when I talk about it, I’m like, “Wow, we were crazy!” But it didn’t seem so weird at the time at all.
At that point you were in the shop all day, baking and selling?
Mia: We would bake all night. Very quickly I realized that I couldn’t keep up with the volume, so we hired people to do the baking. I love the customer service, so I wanted to be behind the counter.
What does your job consist of now? What’s an average day like?
Jason: Mia is involved in product development while I now focus on new business opportunities.
Mia: You know, it’s funny because people ask me about getting out of the corporate world, [but] it’s kind of come full circle. Still so much of it is about product innovation, new ideas, and baking and figuring out how to improve what we already have out there. Mostly the products—cupcakes, cookies, cakes, pies, cake pops, you name it.
What is it that appeals to people about cupcakes?
Mia: First and foremost the nostalgia of it—cupcakes are very fun and playful and reminiscent of childhood—and the idea of the individualized dessert that can be specific to your tastes. Jason always likes to speak to the price point, too. It’s such an affordable kind of luxury, especially with the economy the way it is. You might not be able to take your family out to dinner, but you can bring home a six-pack of cupcakes and be a hero.
Mia: I actually think I do balance—maybe that’s because I sacrifice my sleep! I really give 100% to both, but…you need a lot of support. We have a phenomenal family around us who’s always there to help out. We work extraordinarily well together, Jason and I, so we cover for each other. And I guess you just get good at identifying what’s important versus urgent and just really, really prioritizing.
Jason: It is hard, but I try! My kids are my priority. When Mia was pregnant with both kids, I never missed a single doctor’s appointment or check-up. Nothing was as important! [The kids are] at an age where we can talk on the phone now—or FaceTime—so whenever I need a fix, I call them. Now more than ever, I look forward to the weekends so I can spend every moment with them.
Tell me about your parenting style.
Mia: I’m all about positive reinforcement. I don’t believe in saying “no” a lot. I believe in complimenting and rewarding, so to speak, when my children do what’s expected of them, as opposed to criticizing them when they don’t do what I want them to do.
What are some of your favorite things to do together in the city?
Mia: We’re big park-goers, but I like to mix that up. We’ll bring a picnic or paint sets to the park. Really, even just walking down the street to get ice cream is just so stimulating—[there’s] so much to talk about, so much conversation that comes from it. That in itself is a huge adventure.
You go out to the Hamptons in the summertime. What are your favorite things to do there?
Jason: The kids love being outside and running around all day on the grass. Swimming has become a highlight as they are both learning. Eating outdoors is a must, whether it’s Babette’s for breakfast or Bostwick’s for lunch. And at around 4pm every day, we head over to Main Beach for ice cream on the boardwalk and some sandcastles. [The kids] fall asleep so hard at night; you know it was a great day!
Mia: We play with the kids at the house, we cook a lot… There’s amazing, amazing food there—and I don’t even mean the restaurants, but the local fruit stands. Yesterday, I took Zack to a dairy farm and they sliced off cheese for us that they had just made.
CRUMBS is a family affair. What is it like working with your husband?
Mia: Phenomenal. I say that all the time. We don’t see eye to eye, but that’s kind of the beauty of it. We’re not obstinate people either personally [or] professionally, so we will compromise, always, and the formula kind of works.
How do you divide up the work and chores in your family life?
Mia: [Laughs] That’s funny you should say that—[it’s] a never-ending topic of amusement for the two of us. We joke about how I’m not sure there is a division of labor at home. Jason is a wonderful parent, but I think [the home is] pretty much my domain.
Jason: I think it’s transitioned over time. I used to be the “boss” at work and Mia the “boss” at home…but as the business grew rapidly (as did our kids) it became more important to always be on the same page with every decision. One thing we have always agreed on is that the kids come first! They are and always will be our priority. I’m home every night for bath time and at least an hour of play time before they go to sleep. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
What are your son and daughter like right now?
Mia: They have very distinct personalities. Annabelle has an unbelievable enthusiasm for everything. She’s very excited about everything. It’s so inspiring. I wish everyone were like that, including myself. My son is also pretty enthusiastic about things, but he’s kind of a maniac in the best possible way. He has us laughing all day long.
Do the kids taste-test the cupcakes?
Mia: Zack actually doesn’t have much of a sweet tooth. He likes desserts, but not like Annabelle. Annabelle has always been a fanatic and a great taste-tester. She’s got a very sophisticated sweet palate.
Does Annabelle have a favorite cupcake?
Mia: She’s got a couple. Sometimes it’s the decorative element to it that she loves. She loves our rose cupcakes. And sometimes it’s the flavor profile. She loves the cotton candy.
Do you have rules for how often the kids are allowed to eat sweets?
Mia: Yeah, my kids eat an absurd [amount of sweets]. I rationalize it because they are actually excellent eaters. They’ll eat fish, endless vegetables, fruit. They’ll eat a really great, proper meal and then they’ll eat, like, three cupcakes. And then candy before they go to bed. It’s awful!
Did your own childhood love of sweets play a role deciding to open a cupcake business?
Mia: I had a ferocious sweet tooth, always. I ate every dessert everywhere, was always, always baking. I always say that with the advent of Food Network, kids know that it’s a viable career. [But] I had no idea that that could be a career path. I loved baking; I had a sweet tooth. I wanted to go into retail; it was something that appealed to me even in childhood. So all the elements were there, it just never even occurred to me until I met Jason.
Did his entrepreneurial skills inspire you?
Mia: Yeah. He hadn’t done retail, but after spending some time with him I saw that if you wanted to open up a business, you did open up a business. It was just that simple, really, and I knew I could learn so much from him. It became very exciting, the thought that he could take care of the piece of it that I knew nothing about and I could learn from him.
What advice would you give other parents interested in starting their own businesses?
Jason: Love what you do and take it all in stride. As an entrepreneur, your best day and your worst could sometimes be the same day.
Mia: I always say, “do it.” Maybe that’s so impractical, but I always say it’s not even really about whether you succeed or fail. It’s just being able to say that you did it, that you didn’t let something stop you. It’s been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. I still can’t believe I did it. I say that to myself all the time. It’s ten years later and I’m like, “I can’t believe I started my own business.” How great is that?
Jenna Helwig, Founder of Rosaberry, is a culinary instructor, personal chef, and freelance writer. She blogs for Yummy Delicious at www.newyorkfamily.com.
Plus, check out Mia and Jason’s recipe for a kid-friendly Sand Pail Dessert!